3 Takeaways from Cowboys' Week 16 WinDecember 27, 2021
3 Takeaways from Cowboys' Week 16 Win
Few could have blamed the Dallas Cowboys if they coasted through Sunday night's game against the Washington Football Team. Dallas clinched the NFC East earlier in the day and can now focus on simply getting to the postseason healthy.
However, the Cowboys didn't coast. They put in a dominant effort in totaling 497 yards of offense, getting one defensive and one special teams score, and a whopping 56 points. Dallas is still in the mix for the NFC's No. 1 seed, and on Sunday, it looked like a squad worthy of a first-round bye.
It was the most complete game we've seen from Dallas to date in 2021, and it's a sign of what the Cowboys can bring to the postseason. In short, the NFC East champions are going to be a problem whether they snag the top seed or not—and doing that will require at least one loss by the Green Bay Packers.
Washington might not be the league's best measuring stick, but Dallas looked every bit the Super Bowl contender it hopes to be. Here's what we learned during its 42-point win in Week 16.
If Dak Prescott Really Was in a Slump, He's Not Anymore
Earlier this month, the Cowboys were relying heavily on their defense while getting just enough from their offense to win. In three straight December games, Dallas scored 27 or fewer points. Quarterback Dak Prescott wasn't playing efficient ball, and it was fair to wonder if he was in a slump that was hurting the team.
"I don't want to say that, slump, but that's probably fair," owner and general manager Jerry Jones told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas (h/t ESPN's Todd Archer). "But it's such a multifaceted evaluation that I would say our offense is definitely away from where we were playing five and six games ago from the standpoint of production."
Whatever the problem was, Prescott has solved it. He was as sharp as ever against Washington, finishing 28-of-39 for 330 yards, four touchdowns and a 131.4 passer rating. Prescott threw touchdown strikes to a wide receiver, a tight end, a running back and an offensive lineman—a feat no other NFL quarterback has ever accomplished, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
It's worth noting that Washington has occasionally been friendly to opposing quarterbacks—it came in ranked 30th in passing yards allowed—but it's also worth noting that Prescott wasn't this efficient when these two teams faced off in Week 14.
Dak, as many a headline might say this morning, is back.
Dallas Could Have 2 Defensive Players of the Year in 2021
While the offense caught up to the defense Sunday night, Dallas' defense is still playing tremendously. It's good enough to help the Cowboys reach the Super Bowl and it might produce a pair of Defensive Players of the Year—one of the rookie variety.
Rookie linebacker Micah Parsons has probably already locked up Defensive Rookie of the Year award. He came into Sunday's game with 76 tackles, 12 sacks, three passes defended and three forced fumbles. He added another sack against Washington.
Cornerback Trevon Diggs, meanwhile, picked off Taylor Heinicke for his 11th interception of the season. If he can somehow snag three picks over the final two weeks, Diggs will tie the all-time single-season interceptions record.
Diggs also had a league-high 21 passes defended coming into Sunday while allowing an opposing passer rating of just 56.0, according to Pro Football Reference.
While Diggs will face stiff competition for Defensive Player of the Year from Steelers pass-rusher T.J. Watt (17.5 sacks)—and it would be a mistake to discount Parsons—he has as good a chance as anyone to win the award.
With Prescott in the mix for Comeback Player of the Year, Dallas could be taking home some serious hardware this year.
Dan Quinn's Defensive Turnaround Has Been Remarkable
The honor Dallas really wants is the title of Super Bowl champion. Fortunately, the defense is good enough to make it happen—and that's a credit to coordinator Dan Quinn, who replaced Mike Nolan in January.
Quinn's defense revolves around Diggs and Parsons, but it doesn't rely solely on the duo. On Sunday, it was evident that players like DeMarcus Lawrence (defensive touchdown) and Jayron Kearse (one sack, two QB hits) are perfectly capable of impacting games.
While Dallas hasn't been great at limiting yards, it's been tremendous at forcing turnovers and limiting points. While the Cowboys came in ranked 21st in yards allowed, they ranked seventh in points surrendered.
Again, we have to credit Quinn, who took a lackluster unit and turned it into a dominant force. A year ago, Dallas ranked 23rd in yards allowed and 28th in points allowed.
One could argue that Quinn has been Dallas' defensive MVP this season, and he should have a good chance of earning the Cowboys another award as Assistant Coach of the Year.